Last week, I attended a presentation for the discovery tool Encore. Encore is one of many up and coming discovery tools being overlaid onto library catalogues. Other examples of discovery tools include AquaBrowser and Primo.
This is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit through a full presentation pitch on discovery tools. In the past, there have been brief visits with vendors at conferences or short presentations to whet my appetite, but never the full opportunity to sit back and analyze the potential of these products and exactly how they work.
As most (or all) of you know, discovery platforms overlay a library’s existing catalogue. They read our MARC records and extrapolate that information for use in the discovery tool overlay. Therefore, a discovery tool is only as good as your MARC records. Without full, descriptive records and appropriate subject headings, your tag clouds and refined search parameters are sloppy and inaccurate. Without uniformity, your tag cloud will assist in retrieving some items but not others with different.
This is quite interesting with the amount of records currently being supplied by vendors. Will these records provide the level of quality and accuracy necessary to make discovery tools successful? If records lack descriptive elements or the “local” touch, will they be as effective in this setting? In Encore, the tag cloud depends upon the subject headings and I find it hard to believe that records that have not been edited or reviewed by in-house cataloguers are able to provide the same quality needed to properly sustain these new platforms.
From my understanding, all of the discovery tool platforms rely on the information in MARC and convert it to a more user-friendly format. Given the growing popularity of platforms, it appears as if there is a growing need for quality cataloguing. As a selling feature, these platforms sell themselves as user friendly as well as “automated reference librarians”, allowing patrons to be guided through their discovery by the catalogue, rather than by an individual. With this type of reliance on a tool, it is imperative that the information created for these tools is of the highest quality, as emphasized by the vendors themselves.